Eagles: Patrick Johnson could be the steal of the Draft

The NFL Draft is officially in the books and it’s time to take a deeper look at some of the Eagles newest additions. While the first few picks have garnered plenty of attention, it’s often the less-heralded draftees who can end up taking a class from good to great, and Howie hopes to have added a few late round gems.

Of all the Eagles Day 3 selections, the prospect who presents the most value and upside relative to where they were picked is Patrick Johnson, an EDGE rusher from Tulane who the team added with their final pick of the draft. By all accounts Johnson was an 4th/5th round prospect whose stock took a hit because of underwhelming length (6’2”, 32 inch arms) and a low-level of competition. Those concerns aside, there’s a lot to like here, and in the seventh round this could potentially be the steal of the draft for the Eagles.

For what it’s worth, Mel Kiper had Johnson ranked 81st overall on his big board, and PFF ranked him 92nd on theirs. A handful of evaluators saw third round tools and potential in him as a prospect, and even with the length and competition concerns I’m scratching my head at his availability so late in the draft.

While Johnson’s size may limit his upside and narrow his scheme fit in the eyes of some evaluators, he tests off the charts from a speed, explosion, and agility standpoint; and his ability to stay low and convert speed to power as a rusher helps compensate for what he lacks in raw strength/size.

Pass-rush skillset

Johnson may not have a go-to move to hang his cap on, but he’s fundamentally sound and offers a number of tools in his kit that allow him to get home on a consistent basis. His initial punch is strong and well-timed to keep lineman honest and set up his rush; and he pairs impressive foot speed with good hand-fighting to keep clean and angle his way around blocks. His technical prowess provides a strong base for a diverse pass-rush that includes an array of chops, dips, rip-moves, a speed-rush, an inside spin, and the occasional bull-rush.

Here’s some of what he brings to the table:

He has a good understanding and feel for when to employ each move along with their counters, and even possesses the presence of mind to get his hands up in passing lanes when he doesn’t win on his initial rush.

While he has decent get-off, strong hand-play, and a number of moves to get home, his most exciting trait is his ability to finish. When Johnson wins he’s efficient at wrapping up the ball and converting sacks or tackles for loss when the moment presents itself. There isn’t any part of his game that’s particularly gaudy, but there is plenty of pop in his hits, and his ability to finish plays speaks to how well-rounded of a prospect he is.

Ultimately, Johnson has the play-strength, technical-prowess, high-motor, and football IQ befitting of a “lunch pail” rusher with a decent floor. At the same time, a deep catalog of pass rush moves, fluid movement skills, and plus-athleticism gives him the potential to grow into a real sack artist down the line.

Run defense (EDGE)

If Johnson’s light size and strength was an issue this is where it would show up. While there is reason for it to become a concern in the pros, he proved to be a strong EDGE setter at Tulane who understands how to create leverage and use strong hands to neutralize blocks and disengage when the ball flows his way (though he’s obviously better served attacking than controlling blockers). He’s not an ace tackler given his small radius, but otherwise he’s effective in tight spaces.

If it’s not already clear this is a player who knows how to create power from the ground up, and he has the flexibility to really uncork that on the occasional blocker and ball-carrier who he’s able to square up. With more growth in an NFL weight room he should have no problem with point-of-attack and EDGE run responsibilities down the line.

Coverage ability

Throughout his three years at Tulane, Johnson recorded 309 coverage snaps and flashed some ability in limited responsibilities. As a stand-up end/backer on the LOS he was mostly charged with covering the flat/curl zone, and manning RBs out of the backfield—4.6 speed should be enough to stick downfield on occasion.

Coverage definitely won’t be his forte, but being passable in this regard is vital if the Eagles plan to use him more as an outside linebacker than rotational pass rusher along the line.

Open-field tackling

This is where Johnson would be exposed. While he likely wouldn’t be asked to do much of this in the NFL, he did line up off-ball on 294 snaps throughout his college career and if the Eagles plan on using him primarily as a LB then it’ll be hard to avoid these situations on occasion. He’s not the best athlete in space or playing on his heels and it shows up on film. Regardless, unless the team has designs to consistently drop him into zones in the middle of the field then this shouldn’t be a problem.

Conclusion: A prospect with this sort of production and deep arsenal of pass rush moves shouldn’t last until the seventh round. He’ll certainly need to earn his way in the NFL, but I don’t see him as any less of a prospect than those we added in rounds 4 or 5—he has just as much, if not more potential than most of the prospects in that range. Some evaluators even had a higher grade on Johnson than they did Zech McPhearson (the team’s fourth rounder).

Suffice to say, given the range he was added in, Patrick Johnson could be the steal of the Eagles draft class. Dare I say, he could become the next Trent Cole—a player I can’t help but be reminded of when I watch Johnson on film.

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